In a new series, we are looking at the lives and interests of our current and past colleagues, including the writers of CCLCS. Here we present Mark Gordon, a teacher and writer who worked as a LINC teacher and supervised TESL practicums. Thanks for sharing your experience with us Mark!
Can you please introduce yourself? How long have you been teaching and writing?
Hello. My name is Mark Gordon. I worked at CCLCS for about twenty-five years, from its inception in 1992 until 2017 when I retired. I was a LINC instructor who taught all levels and worked with TESL students when they did their practicums. It was a rewarding experience and I learned a great deal from my students about the countries they came from.
You were with CCLCS at the very beginning. What was that like?
I have a vivid memory of the summer of 1992 when Dan Ingram and I joined CCLCS. We were the first two teachers. The school had not received permission yet to teach the LINC program but Dan and I and the administration believed it was going to happen.
So mini classes were set up. It was like a dry run. I recall that Dan and I each had a “class” with about three students each. The TESL program had been going for about a year. We wanted to see how the TESL students would work out with a class. Sometimes we wound up having two TESL students each, observing a class of three. It was odd and funny but enlightening at the same time.
What kind of writing do you do?
I have been a writer for over sixty years and have written novels and poetry. I’ve written eleven novels and have published three of them. I also write poetry. My poetry has appeared in numerous literary journals in Canada and the United States. I have published one collection of poetry. You can see what I’ve been up to by going to my website, markgordonauthor.com, or by following me on Twitter, @MarkScabash6.
Can you tell us about your first writing experience?
I started writing poetry when I was eighteen and was attending McGill University in Montreal. I was fortunate enough to have met a number of poets who had studied under the Canadian poet, Irving Layton, in high school. They encouraged me and it was not long before I wrote my first poems. Like most first efforts they were less than perfect but I was on my way.
How has teaching influenced your writing? or vice versa?
When I first started teaching at The Language Workshop where I first met Dawn, Bev, and Peggy, I was aware that my listening skills were weak. Teaching made me focus on what the students were saying and I did notice that as the weeks passed I not only improved my listening skills but I became fascinated with the stories that the students brought to class.
I think in writing novels, the writer in a way listens to his or her characters speaking, watches their actions, and lets them guide the story. I do believe that my relationship with so many different personalities from so many different countries did inform the characters I created. It is important in writing novels to allow the characters to grow and develop without too much interference from the writer. I know that this must sound like hocus pocus to some of you, but I guess the unconscious mind does work in this way.
What are you working on these days?
Nowadays, I mostly write short poems on Twitter where I am part of a lively writing community. It is fascinating to be able to publish poems on Twitter and receive immediate feedback from all parts of the globe. Recently, I had two poems published in a print anthology in England. The anthology is based on poems inspired by writing prompts on Twitter.
How important is travel? When you get an opportunity to travel again, where do you want to go?
When I was in my twenties, travelling was important to me. I lived in Israel for three years in the early sixties where I taught ESL in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I met several people there who were writing poetry and had my first poem published in the Jerusalem Post. A few years after living in Israel, I wrote an autobiographically inspired novel called The Kanner Aliyah. It was published in 1979. In recent years, I have travelled around Ontario, from Lake Huron to Thunder Bay, from Windsor to Pembroke.
Where do you live? Have you ever lived elsewhere?
I am now living with my wife in the country about 80 miles east of Toronto. It is quite a change after living in Toronto for over forty years.
I grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and in addition to having lived in Israel and Montreal, have lived in Brantford and Paris, Ontario. I believe these experiences helped me as a writer. But I do believe the childhood years are particularly influential. Images from Nova Scotia appear in my writing all the time as if I had never left. The scent, sounds, and sights of the place never leave me.
Do you have any advice for people considering taking up teaching and writing?
I think it is particularly important in teaching to listen to students, allow them to speak most of the time. I tried to speak no more than twenty percent of the time. For, after all, they are learning the language and need practice. This same idea of practice is important in learning any skill, whether it is teaching, writing, or golf. I think you have probably guessed that I am a golfer. Yes, I am and I am lucky enough to still be able to play it three times a week, and walk the course. I still practice in my backyard and watch YouTube instructional videos.
I want to congratulate CCLCS and everyone associated with it, teachers, childminders, administrators, and board members on thirty wonderful years. I enjoyed my twenty-five years of teaching there and admired the atmosphere of friendship, creativity, and mutual support that made CCLCS one of the finest ESL schools anywhere.
If you have read this little interview, thank you, and many thanks to Mike Simpson and Tim Cloutis for inviting me to speak about my writing and teaching.
POETRY by Mark Gordon
LAST NIGHT MY MOTHER ASKED
Last night my mother asked me
if I liked her at all.
each for a year of her life flew
into the sanctum of my ears.
Sixty-seven bells, each
for a year of mine, rang
the saddest carillon I could imagine.
But, Mom, I said
you taught me how to knit—
scarves that any comic book hero
would envy, with needles
that clacked like your tongue.
You told me that lightning
was the burning tip of God’s cigar,
and thunder the barrels he rolled
down the steps of heaven.
Mom, you smelled of suntan lotion
when you took me to the beach
and I pretended you were my girlfriend,
saltier than any chunk of spruce gum
I cut from a sea-torn tree.
Do you like me at all? you asked.
Not as a mother but me?
And I wondered how I could divide you
from the woman who took me to movies
when I was four, like trying to cut the
wind in two, or separate you
from the person who told me
I would never be the man my father was.
Like is not for mothers, Mom.
For mothers is the long tangle
of endearment that runs like a jaguar
through the woods, that occasionally
turns and devours one of its own,
and keeps on striding, as if trying
to outpace its loving shadow.